- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

SALZBURG, Austria — “Do. A deer. A female deer.” My knuckles whiten from my death grip

on the tour bus handrail as my mostly elderly American and Japanese fellow passengers launch into a gleeful singalong.

“Re. A drop of golden sun.”

Groan. Thank goodness the coach vendor is selling cold beer. I flag him down like a New Yorker hailing a cab in Lower Manhattan at rush hour.

“Mi. A name I call myself. Fa. A long, long way to run …”

And a long, long way back to Vienna, I’m thinking, if I bail at the next stop on “The Sound of Music” tour.

Then it gets interesting.

For instance, did you know that Christopher Plummer, who played Capt. von Trapp in the 1965 classic filmed in and around this scenic Alpine city, so disliked the script that for years he called it “The Sound of Mucus”?

Or that Julie Andrews, starring as Maria von Trapp, lost her temper while doing the cheery opening scene in a mountain meadow because she had trouble standing in the strong downdrafts whipped up by the helicopter filming her?

Or that if the real-life von Trapp family members had made their escape over the peaks depicted in the movie, they would have ended up not in Switzerland, which lies in the opposite direction, but in the heart of Nazi Germany and Hitler’s infamous Eagle’s Nest retreat?

Those and other nuggets await on various tours that will take you to locations where the Academy Award-winning classic was made — and through some of Austria’s most breathtaking scenery.

If you’re a “Sound of Music” groupie like my wife, who knows the lyrics to “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss” and all the rest, you’ll thrill to such sights as the downtown Salzburg gazebo where Liesl dances and sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”

If you’re ambivalent about the film, as I and my two teenagers are, you’ll find plenty of entertainment in all the myths, misnomers and sheer mania surrounding the movie.

Most Austrians don’t have a clue about “The Sound of Music” or its cult following in the United States because the movie wasn’t dubbed into German or widely distributed here.

Never mind that the opening scene was shot over the border in Bavaria. The best things about the postcard-perfect province of Salzburg are the drop-dead-gorgeous Alpine vistas and panoramic views.

There’s plenty to see and do if you stay in the city of Salzburg itself. Touring the house where Mozart was born is a must. So is wandering Salzburg’s delightful parks and cobblestoned pedestrian shopping streets and sampling the city’s lively outdoor cafes and gourmet restaurants serving up fresh local game.

We chose to rent a two-bedroom farmhouse apartment on a working dairy near Bischofshofen, a town about an hour’s drive outside Salzburg. The sweeping views were magnificent, and the farm had the added attraction of horseback riding (for my 13-year-old daughter) and trout fishing (for me).

There are ice caves to explore, the medieval Hohenwerfen fortress featuring a spectacular falconry demonstration, and numerous other attractions within an hour’s drive.

While a friend and I slipped away for an afternoon of fly-fishing on a remote Alpine pond, our wives and children enjoyed paddle boats on another lake and took a heart-stopping ride down a mountainside on a luge-style track.

Several companies and small private operators offer “Sound of Music” tours in English. We opted for one run by Panorama Tours, which lasts about four hours and takes in key locations, beginning with the lakeside castle where many scenes were filmed.

This is where the film’s first myth is exposed: The exterior garden scenes at Capt. von Trapp’s sprawling mansion actually involved several locations, and all of the interior shots were filmed in a Hollywood studio.

It doesn’t take long for the tour guide to start spilling the beans about what went on behind the scenes.

Mr. Plummer figures prominently in the more irreverent anecdotes. Turns out he didn’t much care for the seven child actors who starred in the film — not even the youngest, the adorably chubby 5-year-old Gretl, who was played by Kym Karath.

“I’m not carrying that bloody fat kid,” Mr. Plummer told producer-director Robert Wise during filming on the von Trapp family’s escape scene. Mr. Wise ended up finding a lighter child as a double for the scene.

The producer got flustered when Miss Andrews had a hard time singing and playing guitar at the same time for the “Do-Re-Mi” scene. A typical Austrian solution — a shot of schnapps — did the trick.

Then there was the time the late Richard Haydn, who played talent agent Max Detweiler in the film, accidentally dropped his dentures into a toilet while somewhere on location. Naturally, he didn’t have a spare set in his luggage.

That’s not all. The hills are alive with plenty more.

Easy to get there; walk in town:

Salzburg is easily accessible by air, rail and car. Some European carriers offer direct flights, although most airlines require a connection in Vienna. Daily trains operate between Vienna and Salzburg, a 3½-hour ride by car.

Salzburg is easily discovered on foot; in fact, cars are banned from parts of the old town and must be parked in a mammoth underground garage near the heart of the city. Taxis and buses abound. Tour operators offer day trips to lakes and castles that stud the countryside.

There are numerous hotels to fit every budget in Salzburg, as well as the ubiquitous “Zimmer Frei” offers in private homes, which tend to be clean and comfortable and give visitors a chance to make friends with locals. If you would prefer staying in the heart of all that Alpine scenery and fresh air, Farm Holidays in Austria (www.farmholidays.com) offers bookings on working farms.

Attractions: “The Sound of Music” tour is a must for fans of the 1965 classic. Salzburg Panorama Tours (www.panoramatours.com, phone 43-662-88-32-11-0, fax 43-662- 87-16-18) operates two daily English-language tours, which take about four hours; tickets are about $38 for adults, $19.50 for children 4 to 12.

The house where Mozart was born is open daily, and there are outdoor activities in the countryside. The Hohenwerfen fortress, which dates to 1077, offers an impressive demonstration of falcons and other birds of prey, and one of Europe’s largest ice caverns is just down the mountainside. For details: www2.salzburg.info, phone 43-662-88-98-7-0, or fax 43-662-88-97-7-32) or www.salzburg-travel.com.

Food: Salzburg offers excellent dining, including savory game in season; try wildschwein (wild boar) or hirsch (venison) with red cabbage and spaetzle (noodles), washed down with a glass of white gruener veltliner or velvety blaufraenkischer red.

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